The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
“God’s Grandeur” — Gerard Manley Hopkins
It always amazes me when I keep running into something several times when I usually don’t see or hear of it for months or even years. I take with great seriousness NCIS’s character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs’s Rule #39, “There’s no such thing as a coincidence.” However, I have been surprised by coincidences from time to time. For example, recently, I found the poem “God’s Grandeur” on my Facebook page, read by HRH Charles, Prince of Wales. It was written in 1877 by Gerard Manley Hopkins in a traditional sonnet (14-line) form, and the prince’s voice made the reading sing. Many read poems as if they were reading the New York Times headlines, but this reading was slow-paced and emphasized places that begged to be stressed. It surprised me that I went back several times over the following week or so to hear it again—me, a person who doesn’t really like poetry.
Behold my surprise when I opened my Reading and Reflection Guide for this year’s Education for Ministry (EfM) program just a couple of days later. The chapter for study this week included the very same poem that had made me stop and think the week before. We have been working a lot with Christianity and its role in care for creation and all of God’s creatures, so Hopkins seemed to be right on the money there.
What a hopeful and eloquent statement is laid out in the very first line, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” It has been part of the faith and tradition since the creation itself. In another coincidence, I ran across a short series of programs about “Jewish Law,” which again stressed the necessity for caring not just for people but also for creation itself. God put Adam and Eve in charge of the Garden of Eden to preserve and enjoy it, and what happened? One sin led to another, which started the ball rolling, as the poem indicates.
We have reached the point where species, which were once plentiful, be it plant, animal, or mineral, have vanished partially or even completely. We can no longer feel the kinship or even the holiness of the ground we walk on because we have polluted the earth. Even worse, we don’t notice the pollution we’ve caused because we always wear shoes with soles, often quite thick. There are people in this world who either wear thin soles or none at all and can sense the health or illness of the soil, but we seldom listen to or even hear them when they warn us.
God gave the world, indeed the universe, a great gift of the ability to renew and replenish itself, often regenerating seemingly on its own. At other times, it requires the help of humankind to reseed, reap, or remove the contamination and assist in restoration. Given time, an area blasted by a firestorm will usually recover. Still, it will probably take centuries to begin to resemble the place that had been there before. Humans can replant trees in the burned area and hasten the growth process. It is a healing kind of thing, both for the land and for the humans who help or even pass by the former scene of destruction and see new life springing up in hope.
The poem reminds us that morning comes after even the darkest night, and that morning brings hope itself. God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, spreads God’s wings and nurtures the world as a mother coos over her offspring. It is an image that is powerful, but somehow it seems to be one we have lost in our busyness and hurry to make money or gain power. Still, God is always there, whether we notice or not, participate in re-creation or not, and even whether or not we care about it.
Sometimes it takes a coincidence to bring something to the forefront. I know focusing on how a particular topic of study and how it impacts our lives and Christian practice often makes it more understandable in a context in which we had never considered it. Sometimes it takes hearing something said or seen differently to change our thinking. This change of thinking propels us to right old wrongs, clean things that are soiled and spoiled, and become closer to God through the everyday toil of caring for creation in all its diversity. The world was made diverse for a reason; otherwise, it would be as dull and colorless as many of our futuristic novels portray.
I think I’ll have to look for more coincidences. It might be fun to have new things to think about instead of rehashing old topics and news.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.
Image: The Descent of the Holy Spirit, by Lewis Comfort Tiffany, ca. 1892. Currently in the collection of St Barnabas Episcopal Church, Irvington, NY. Found at Wikimedia Commons.